Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Asian Week: Sky High (2003)

Ryuhei Kitamura is one strange guy!  For a Japanese director, he has a fairly-brief filmography, but they're all pretty odd.  From his early work like the zombie/prison break/sword-fight movie Versus to the sword-fight/horror film Aragami: Raging God of Battle and the controversial kung-fu/Godzilla/alien invasion movie Godzilla: Final Wars, the stuff has been strange.  He's even done some work in America in the form of Midnight Meat Train, a collaboration with Clive Barker.  This is one of his less famous works, although it's still pretty popular with certain people.  It tells the tale of a serial killer wreaking havoc in Japan in a plot that eventually involves ghosts, airline disasters and the gates of Heaven and Hell.  No, really.  Who else but Kitamura, folks?!?  Strap on your wings because we're going...

The film begins with a wedding.  Oh good, there's no way that this will end badly.  Well, that is, unless the bride comes out with a gaping chest wound.  Oops.  As it turns out, this woman is the bride-to-be of a police detective who is investigating a series of serial murders involving women being found with their hearts removed and stolen.  Well, on the bright side, you don't have to go far to see the crime scene!  Our heroine proves to be pretty active after death as she wakes up in a giant room that seems pretty weird.  She's greeted by a woman who explains that she is the Gatekeeper of Heaven and Hell.  Busy lady, apparently.  She tells our heroine that she has three choices.  One- forget about her murder and go to Heaven.  Two- haunt the world forever as a ghost.  Three- bring death to her killer, but also be doomed to an eternity in Hell.  Decisions, decisions.  In the mortal realm, her ex-fiancee contemplates suicide, but she manages to startle him by shattering a glass table.  He goes a bit over the edge as he nearly kills an informant for joking about the recent death.  By the way, why does an image of the ghost woman play on a bunch of TVs in the room?  Are you going to explain that?  No?  Alright.

Things get weird as we learn about the killer's identity and their motivation.  The killer is a rich, geneticist who has a very odd plan.  It's hard to explain, but it involves sacrificing the hearts of a select set of women to open the Gates of Hell.  How?  The reason is a bit mind-boggling, so you'll have to wait.  He sets a trap for a new woman, who happens to be a reporter for a company whose meeting room looks a lot like the one at TMZ.  Weird, right?  She gets her picture taken with the man by her cameraman, who freaks out when he develops the film and sees a spectral image around her.  Nobody believes him until they finally present enough proof that the lady's ghost is around.  We also get a plot point that would later be stolen for Final Destination 3 as we see a picture of a ghostly hand over a plane that later crashed.  On the plus side, it's not Know1ng.  The man is on a date with the reporter, with our heroes rushing to save the day.  They fail, however.  Our dead heroine joins forces with the ghosts of the previous victims (just go with it), but are chased off by his henchwoman.  How?  She has a sword that can kill ghosts, that's how!  No, really.  With only one heart left to get, our heroes are kind of screwed if they don't do something right.

Finally, the tough lady that guards the Gate jumps into action!  She faces off with the man's henchwoman and...gets 'killed' in ten seconds.  So much for Plan B.  The cameraman is also not too well off after being shot by a blast of mystical energy.  With only a couple ghosts left, our heroes have barely any chance.  The villain makes his way into a Taoist Monastery to complete the ceremony.  By the way, want to know why the women were targeted?  You see, they were the reincarnations of the previous guardians of the Gate.  Sure- why not?!?  To be honest with you, I can barely make sense of anything beyond this point.  Basically, a bunch of sword fights break out.  Yeah, it's a Kitamura film!  Our heroine fights the henchwoman, while our hero fights the bad guy.  Eventually, they manage to kill both of them, only for the bad guy to show up at the Gate for Round 2.  All of this is good, even if I don't get the context to a lot of it.  The bad guy manages to partly-open the door to Hell, revealing a giant face- freaky.  Our hero gets himself killed so he can turn the tide of the battle.  In the end, the villain is beaten and our hero is brought back to life.  The woman stays behind as the new Gatekeeper.  Hurray?  The End.

I'm happy, but very confused!  The movie has a simple plot at first, but it slowly gets confusing.  A guy is killing people, but it can't just be about that.  No, we have to work in the Afterlife, ghost-killing swords and magic.  So much of this feels smooshed together.  Take, for example, the film becoming obsessed with sword fights in the Third Act.  It's like Ryuhei said 'I like sword fights- make it happen.'  Never mind that there was no build-up to it in regards to the villain, just for the henchwoman.  I guess she taught him, huh?  Mind you, the fights are great and I like them, but they feel forced into this movie.  They are the square blocks and this movie is a round one!  The magic aspect is also kind of odd too.  The villain has a whole slew of random powers and there is almost no explanation for it.  He can see ghost because...he's stronger.  Kind of strange, don't you think?  By the way, the ghost-killing sword is cool, but feels like a lazy plot device.  They really wanted to have ghosts interacting with our reality, but then needed a way for the bad guy to stop them.  What happens to the ghosts when they 'die' exactly?  It's a good question!  Regardless of all the questions or gripes, this is a fun movie.  It's not as good as Versus or as fun as Aragami: Raging God of Battle, but it's good.  Check it out.

Next up, I begin a two-part look at a pair of Shaw Brothers horror films.  This one features magic, double-crosses and gooey stuff.  Stay tuned...

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